Although Andria was Terence’s first play, it shows those characteristics for which this dramatist was noted throughout his career. As in all his plays, the action is closely knit, with no digressions, and the comedy is of a more serious turn than popular slapstick humor. The language is natural.
The plot was not new. Terence admits in his prologue that he adapted his drama from two plays by Menander, a Greek dramatist who wrote in the fourth century b.c.e. The story turns, as it does in so many Greek and Latin comedies, on the theme of mistaken identity. The modern reader will be inclined to compare the play to William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (pr. c. 1592-1594, pb. 1623), which in turn was freely adapted from Plautus’s Menaechmi (pr. second century b.c.e.; The Menaechmi, 1595). Modern authors have not ceased to adapt from Terence’s Andria: It was the basis of Sir Richard Steele’s The Conscious Lovers (pr. 1722, pb. 1723) and Thornton Wilder’s novel The Woman of Andros (1930).
As Terence’s first play, produced in 166 b.c.e., when the author was in his early twenties, Andria heralds the direction and concerns of the playwright’s later work. Like each of Terence’s dramas, this is adapted from the Greek New Comedy, Menander in particular. Among critics there is wide variance of opinion as to how much Terentian comedy owes to the original sources, and since the original sources have been lost, there is no way of settling the dispute. It seems likely, however, that the tone and the use of the double plot are distinctly those of Terence.
If one compares Terence to his only predecessor whose plays have survived, Plautus, there is striking dissimilarity in these two comic playwrights, even though both adapted from Menander and his contemporaries. Plautus is preeminently a man of the stage, ebullient, funny, always ready to sacrifice the logic of plot for the sake of humor and interest. Terence is more the writer than the playwright; a careful craftsman, he is concerned with polished style, character delineation, and a smooth and elegant plot. If he lacks Plautus’s vivacity, he is always agreeably humane.
Terence’s career itself was remarkable. Born in North Africa, he was brought to Rome as a slave while still a child. His master, Terentius Lucanus, educated him and eventually freed him, which allowed Terence to develop his interest in drama. He was admitted into the aristocratic circle of the Scipios, who were interested in disseminating...
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